Both the carnivore diet and the ketogenic diet are strict low-carb dietary regimes. Many people think the two are roughly equal in terms of health benefits, but is that really true?
What’s the difference between the carnivore diet and the keto diet?
Which one is the best for you?
Let’s explore the matter!
Carnivore vs. Keto: The Definition
The Carnivore Diet is a dietary regime that consists exclusively of animal products, mainly meat and fish. The strict followers of the carnivore diet consume only meat, while less extreme carnivore dieters also allow themselves to eat eggs and certain dairy products. No vegetables or fruit are allowed, ever. The macronutrient ratio on the carnivore diet is close to 0% calories from carbs, about 32% from protein, and roughly 62% from fat.
The Ketogenic diet, or keto for short, is a restrictive eating regime that cuts dietary carbs drastically but doesn’t eliminate them from your menu. Any kind of fruit, vegetable, dairy product, and even alcohol is allowed on keto as long as you stay close to the ketogenic macronutrient ratio. Typically, the macro breakdown for healthy ketosis is up to 5% of calories from carbohydrates, 20-25% from protein, and 70-75% from fat.
Carnivore vs. Keto: The Goal
The goal of the carnivore diet is to get as close to a zero-carb regime as physically possible, and stay there for an unlimited time preferably forever. Allegedly, this is how ancient humans lived and thrived millions of years ago, eating mainly meat and fish. The idea is that, therefore, such a diet could be perfect for supporting health. Some people engage in short-term carnivore eating to lose weight.
The Keto diet is also propagated as a healthy alternative to the mainstream idea of a balanced diet, but it doesn’t make any claims regarding how natural this approach is. Keto can be followed both short- and long-term to lose weight and build muscle.
Carnivore vs. Keto: What’s Allowed And What’s Forbidden
As the name suggests, on the carnivore diet you can eat meat—and that’s pretty much it. The good news is that any kind of meat is good to enjoy: sausages, steaks, ground meat, roasted ribs, everything works. Organ meats are also allowed, so followers of the carnivore diet eat plenty of liver to get enough micronutrients.
All kinds of grains, herbs, vegetables, and fruit are forbidden on the carnivore diet. Ideally, it should consist only of meat, water, and a bit of salt to season everything up.
On the contrary, the keto diet is fairly liberal in terms of what you can eat—as long as you stick to your daily macronutrient goals. Meat, grains, vegetables, dairy products, everything is allowed! The only food that’s recommended to avoid at all costs is refined sugar, as I may cause a spike in blood glucose and get you out of ketosis in mere minutes.
Carnivore vs. Keto: The Science
There are no studies on the safety, effect, and potential health benefits of the carnivore diet specifically. This isn’t likely to change anytime soon, given the extreme nature of the diet. Moreover, former orthopedic doctor Shawn Baker, the most prominent advocate of the carnivore diet, has had his medical license revoked due to his active position regarding the meat-only regimen. According to the prevailing opinion in the medical community, the carnivore diet is somewhat unhealthy at best—and seriously dangerous at most.
On the other hand, there are hundreds of scientific studies on different aspects of the keto diet.
- Keto may help to improve body composition and boost physical performance
- Ketone bodies (the chemicals that are produced during ketosis) support cognitive function. Perhaps, this effect is base on the fact that ketones are considered to be a better source of energy than glucose, at least for the brain
- Some animal studies reported that keto fights off depression
- The ketogenic diet is used to reduce the frequency and intensity of seizures in cases of drug-resistant epilepsy
- According to studies, keto can improve blood cholesterol levels - even though its primary component is fat!
- Keto can improve insulin sensitivity. In turn, this may prevent metabolic syndrome, keep diabetes at bay, and significantly help in maintaining a healthy weight.
- Although the evidence is scarce at the moment, a few studies found that keto could be effective in treating acne!
Carnivore vs. Keto: What the People Are Saying
The carnivore community consists of tens of thousands of followers. They’re a tight and supportive movement where people share their success stories, worries, challenges, and help each other follow the carnivore principles. And still, the number of carnivore communities is really limited due to the extreme nature of the diet.
The worldwide keto community is much larger, with hundreds of thousands, if not millions of followers. In part, this is explained by the fact that keto is extremely flexible - you can be vegetarian or vegan on keto, eat meat if that’s what you like, or focus on fish and dairy as an alternative. In other words, the keto diet is a set of macronutrient recommendations, not a strict list of DOs and DON’Ts. When you get used to its principles, you can eat anything you want.
Let’s summarize what we reviewed so far.
The carnivore diet is an extreme eating regime that ideally consists only of meat products and fish. Mild carnivores also eat eggs and dairy. All other types of food (grains, vegetables, fruit) are forbidden at all times. Followers of the carnivore diet believe it’s the natural diet that our ancestors thrived on for millions of years—meaning that it should support general health, promote weight loss, and help in maintaining muscle mass. There are no scientific studies on the matter of the carnivore diet specifically. The community is generally tight and friendly, with tens of thousands of followers worldwide.
The ketogenic diet is a set of dietary recommendations that focuses on macronutrient goals more than on specific foods. You can eat anything you want on keto, as long as you stick close to your personal macronutrient limits. There are dozens of studies suggesting that keto has numerous health benefits. The keto community is huge, with people from all kinds of backgrounds and dietary preferences - keto vegans, keto vegetarians, keto omnivores, and so on. Keto is extremely flexible, and that’s one more thing that makes it attractive for millions of people all around the world.
The bottom line is that both diets are good, each in its own way. Some people achieve amazing results on the carnivore diet, some are better off with keto, and some folks don’t feel comfortable with any of those.
To summarize, you’ll have to find out for yourself what works best for you, but both options are absolutely valid!